Budget to include £800m to cut red tape and free-up NHS and police time

2 March 2024, 22:34

Police with drone
Keith Bennett search. Picture: PA

The money is intended to speed up the delivery of NHS scans and pay for a pilot that will see police use drones as a first response.

The Budget will include an £800 million package of technology reforms that is designed to speed-up results in the NHS and cut admin tasks for police.

The Chancellor said there is “too much waste in the system” as he announced on Sunday a series of measures to free-up time for those on the front line of public services.

As part of the Treasury reforms, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence (AI) will be deployed to cut scan times by a third.

The department said the changes, due to be in Wednesday’s Budget, have the potential to deliver £1.8 billion worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.

Officials said the move is about reversing the high spending, high tax approach the UK Government adopted to see the country through the coronavirus pandemic and the energy shocks sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking more spending buys us better public services.

“There is too much waste in the system and we want public servants to get back to doing what matters most: teaching our children, keeping us safe and treating us when we’re sick.

“That’s why our plan is about reaping the rewards of productivity, from faster access to MRIs for patients to hundreds of thousands of police hours freed up to attend burglaries or incidents of domestic abuse.”

In the health sector, the Treasury said that more than 130,000 patients a year, including those waiting for cancer results, can expect to receive their test results sooner as a result of at least 100 MRI scanners in England being upgraded with AI.

The pioneering technology will be trained to recognise patterns in scans through machine-learning which officials said could cut scan times by over a third.

Jeremy Hunt
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced extra cash to help free-up front line personnel (Daniel Leal/PA)

In policing, the Treasury said its reforms will help to deliver on the Police Productivity Review, which it said found that up to 38 million hours of officer time could be saved every year.

Mr Hunt will provide £230 million towards the rollout of time-saving technology, including funding automated redaction of personal information during evidence collation.

The process will apply to name badges in shoplifting incidents, irrelevant faces from body worn cameras and number plates from video evidence.

Interviewing witnesses and victims via video call will be approved to improve speed of service.

A pilot allowing officers to use drones to first respond to some incidents like traffic collisions will also be given the green light.

The drone information will be fed back to help forces to assess the seriousness of the incident and the resources required to deal with it, the Treasury said.

AI will be used on the 101 non-emergency service to triage callers, it added.

MRI scan
More than 100 MRI scanners will be upgraded with AI software to improve scan times, under Treasury plans (Bruce Adams/Daily Mail)

Other measures in the £800 million package include:

– £170 million for justice system reforms designed to save up to 55,000 hours a year of administrative time. Jury bundles will be made digital and there will be new software to streamline parole decisions.

– £165 million to be put towards reducing last year’s local authority overspend of £670 million on children’s social care places across England by making 200 additional child social care places available, reducing the reliance on costly emergency places for children.

– A £34 million fund to reduce fraud by expanding the use of AI across government to make it easier to spot and catch fraudsters, in a move estimated to save £100 million.

– Accelerating the delivery of the Department for Work and Pension’s existing programme with a £17 million investment to modernise its services and move away from paper-based communications.

– Cutting the time it takes for planning officers to process applications by 30% through a new AI pilot.

– Boosting support for children with additional needs through a £105 million fund to help deliver an additional 15 special free schools.

Darren Jones, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said the announcement mounted to “spin without substance”.

“Nothing in Britain is better off after 14 years of Conservative economic failure,” he said.

“Millions of people are stuck on hospital waiting lists, our schools are crumbling and our streets are less safe. And yet all the Chancellor is offering is more spin without substance.

“It’s time for change. Only Labour offers a long-term plan to grow our economy to deliver more jobs, more investment and to put more money in people’s pockets.”

Mr Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last fiscal statement from the Conservative government before the next general election, which is widely expected in the autumn.

With the Chancellor number-crunching over the coming days before finalising his Budget, official forecasts of the Chancellor’s “head room” against his plans to get borrowing to fall in five years’ time are understood to have moved against the Government.

Treasury sources this week said Mr Hunt is considering a further squeeze on public spending as a way to deliver the tax cuts being demanded by some Tory MPs.

The announcement about bolstering public sector productivity could be a move designed to free up money for pre-election giveaways.

According to The Sunday Times, the Office for Budget Responsibility told Mr Hunt on Wednesday that he has £12.8 billion of headroom to play with – more than £2 billion less than the figure the Treasury is said to have previously been basing its calculations on.

The newspaper said the Chancellor is due to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday evening to make a final decision on whether a 2p cut to income tax is affordable.

By Press Association

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